Grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Wintergreen Resort has implemented several changes this year to how the mountain operates.
Chief among them this season, which began Dec. 12, are a mask mandate for indoor and outdoor spaces, social distancing, eliminating contact when possible and turning skiers away once the resort reaches capacity.
According to Josh Ellwood, marketing coordinator for the Nelson County-based ski resort, one of the biggest changes this year to normal operations is limiting the amount of traffic on the mountain by pushing pre-purchasing lift tickets and rental tickets online ahead of time.
Pre-purchasing tickets also guarantees skiers’ spots on the mountain once they do visit the resort, Ellwood said. He added the limit is fluid and, among other factors, is based on the amount of available terrain.
“It’s a dynamic number,” Ellwood said of the capacity limits. “I think we hit the capacity several days over the Christmas holiday where we stopped selling lift tickets and we sold out of rentals.”
Currently, the resort is working on getting additional snow coverage in order to open additional slopes.
“It’s the worst-case scenario in terms of a customer service experience,” Ellwood said. “Unfortunately there may be instances where we had to turn away somebody but we’re not going to go against our own guidelines.”
Having bought his ticket when he arrived at the resort Jan. 7, Austin Pertin, of North Carolina, said he could see how not being allowed to ski because of capacity limits would be a “big bump in plans.”
“If you’re planning ahead, it’s not that big a deal, but for day-trippers I can see it being an issue, especially with the limited capacity,” Pertin said.
In an effort to promote social distancing, Ellwood encouraged resort-goers purchase rentals ahead of time because of capacity limits inside the rental shop itself. Rentals also are being sold at hourly pickup times.
The resort also has what it calls “ghost lanes” on lines for chair lifts, allowing for adequate horizontal separation. Skiers also are not required to ride chair lifts with anybody they did not arrive with or anybody they do not feel comfortable riding with, Ellwood said.
Wintergreen also is making use of online ordering for food and ticket kiosks in order to eliminate person-to-person contact as much as possible.
Despite the “small sacrifices,” Ellwood said the ski experience should feel very similar to previous years while also providing a safe environment.
“I think the overall feeling and what we try to stress for this season … we are asking everyone to do their part,” Ellwood said. “Know what’s going on before you come up here and while you’re up here do your part to have a safe and successful ski season.”
Shannon Self, of Fredericksburg, said although he’s visited Wintergreen in a previous season, he didn’t feel like the changes this year took away from the experience. He added he felt like the capacity limits this year were a benefit.
“With the lower attendance people can actually learn and pick up faster without having to worry about hitting somebody else or somebody getting injured so it also lowers the injury rate,” Self said.